Los Angeles theatergoers will remember Joanna Glushak from her dual role as Marcella Dupree (“I am Marcella Dupree and who are you!”) and Fidel Castro lookalike Generalissimo Vega in the original musical Pest Control, but the successful New York-based actress has spent most of her career either on Broadway or touring the United States in musicals as diverse as Hairspray, Les Misérables, Xanadu, Evita, and now, the First National Tour of Young Frankenstein. The Yale School Of Drama grad is about to open the Orange County leg of the Young Frankenstein tour as Frau Blucher, a role first made famous by Cloris Leachman in Mel Brooks’ classic comedy spoof.  Joanna took time out of her busy schedule to sit down and chat with StageSceneLA about a career jam-packed with exciting roles.

Joanna with Sharon Wilkins and Sirens in Xanadu (Photo by Carol Rosegg)

Hi Joanna. I’ve been a fan of your work since seeing you twice in Pest Control back in 2008.  (In my review, I called you “a whirlwind of talent and sizzle” and “the lovechild of Chita Rivera and Joanna Gleason in both looks and talent.”)  I also got to see you at the La Jolla Playhouse in Xanadu, another terrific Joanna Glushak performance, so I’m definitely looking forward to seeing Young Frankenstein when it opens in Costa Mesa.  

Well, let me first of all thank you for such a wonderful review for Pest Control.  I make it a habit never to read my reviews while doing a show and then I forget to read them afterwards, so thank you again.

You’re very welcome. It’s great to finally pick your brain about your exciting and varied career. The earliest we meet you in your bio is your graduation from The Yale School Of Drama, no small feat by the way.  Could you fill us in briefly on the years leading up to that? Where did you grow up?

I grew up in New York City, Manhattan to be precise, and my mother put me in a ballet academic school at the age of nine.

And how did you like that experience?

I took to ballet like a duck to water. I loved it!  I was intending to become a ballerina and go and dance with the Stuttgart Ballet until my parents thought better of it, knowing that ballet is a very short career.

Parents often do know best.  So did they offer any alternative suggestions to the budding actress in their midst?

I had also always liked to sing around the house and make up stories so I guess they saw that potential as well.

What else influenced your decision to become an actor?

When I was fifteen, I babysat for a woman in my building who was starting a Children’s Management. She asked for me to get pictures to her. I did, and promptly got cast in a 26-episode TV series on Channel 13, called Watch Your Mouth starring myself as Bonnie and Joe Morton as the teacher.

Did you do any singing on that show, or were you strictly an actress?

In one of the episodes they asked me to sing, and I think that’s when I realized I actually could.

A useful discovery for a triple-threat-in-training to make!  So what came next?

I continued to study dance and at nineteen auditioned for a summer stock production of The Student Prince. I got the job and had a blast.

And then?

I went back to NYU for strictly acting, and the following summer I auditioned for West Side Story. After that I continued to work, going from the National Tour of Evita on to the lead in a new musical at the Public Theater in New York called Lenny And The Heartbreakers. This is where I believe James Lapine saw my performance and asked me to audition for the standby for Bernadette Peters in Sunday In The park With George.

What a break that must have been!  I assume you auditioned…

I did and I got it!  I was beside myself!  Sondheim was my idol!  I thought I had died and gone to heaven!

Joanna with David Rasche in Ciao (Photo by Joe Schuyler) and with Chita Rivera in Venecia 

And what was next for you after Sunday With George?

I left that show finally to do The Lies And Legends Of Harry Chapin at the Village Gate.  That was a wonderful experience as well.  It was after that that I went on to do Rags, Les Misérables, Welcome to the Club, Conversations with My Father, and many many regional theater jobs that I couldn’t fit in my bio.

Speaking of your bio, I see that you’re also a graduate of the highly prestigious Yale Drama School. How did you manage to fit that in to a thriving career?

I was on tour with Fiddler on the Roof when a friend of mine had decided to audition for Yale Drama School.  On a whim I thought I should do that too. Even though I had a robust and thriving career, I found that since I understudied Bernadette Peters I had become “Understudy To The Stars.”   I’d gone on to cover many, such as Christine Baranski in The Loman Family Picnic at Manhattan Theater Club, a straight play, by the way. So I auditioned for Yale and I got in.

How did it feel being back at school after having been a professional performer for a number of years?

I loved it!  I never felt like I left the “Business.”  Yale is a production oriented school.  I was constantly working on a play, or two or three at one time.  The second year, all Shakespeare.  I really was able to sharpen my skills!

How did your time at Yale end up affecting your life as a working actor?

Since graduating from Yale ten years ago, I’ve broadened my career.  I can now be seen for both straight plays and musicals and I’ve happily gone back and forth. It just depends on the project that presents itself.

Joanna as Velma in Hairspray (Photo by Charr Crail)

You’ve done a lot of work in regional theater as well as several National Tours. As a New York-based actor, how has it been for you working outside the Big Apple? 

Yes, I have been doing a lot of theater out of town over the last four years and quite honestly I think I’m ready to get back to New York when I’m done playing Frau Blucher and stay in the big city for a while. As much as I love traveling, I need to be in one place for a while.

Are there any cities you’ve particularly enjoyed performing in?

I have to say I am so lucky to have been able to spend a month exploring San Francisco, Chicago…  Detroit?  Uh, No! But it’s great to visit these cities and spend days off exploring.  Denver… beautiful!  What a gift!  What a life!

In Young Frankenstein, you’re playing Frau Blucher.  Is she one of your favorites?

I just adore the role and I adore the song Mel brooks wrote for her. It is a character actor’s dream come true!

Frau Blucher was originated on Broadway by Andrea Martin and immortalized on film by Cloris Leachman.  Do you feel any need to pay tribute to the originals, or have you approached the role as if you were the very first to bring it to life?

It’s my acting policy to steal from the best.  Take what you can and leave the rest!  So that’s what I did. I will never be either Cloris Leachman or Andrea Martin, but I watched both their performances and tried to incorporate what felt right in my body.

You’ve taken over a lot of great roles in your career. Any desire to originate a role from scratch?

Yes, I would love to originate my own role. I think I’ll put that out into the universe.  Originating a role is thrilling and scary.  It’s what actors live for, I think, but getting to do a really good fun role is also extremely satisfying!

Joanna as Juanita Ramirez, Lonely Latin Lady

You’re all over YouTube these days as the blonde bombshell “Juanita Ramirez, Lonely Latin Lady.”  Who exactly is Juanita and what have you and she got planned for the future?

Juanita Ramirez is my alter ego. My next phase for her is to get on the Jimmy Kimmel show as a travel show host. Juanita has spent the greater part of this tour filming the travel show all around the U.S. Alcatraz was really special for her. Keep on the lookout.

What a great touring bonus for you!  And yes, I will keep my eyes peeled for Juanita! Thanks so much for taking the time to answer so many questions, Joanna!  I’m looking forward to seeing you on Opening Night of Young Frankenstein down Costa Mesa way!

Click here for to purchase tickets for Young Frankenstein.

September 12 -25
Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 7:30. Saturdays at 2:00 and 7:30.  Sundays at 1:00 and 6:30. Reservations: 714 556-2787
                                                                       Young Frankenstein photos by Paul Kolnik

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